- Review Price: £997.58
It’s not just in the home sector that notebooks are taking over from desktops. For business users, having a portable machine not only facilitates taking work home and on the road (what joy), but also makes the tech department’s job easier as it reduces queries on how to hook up monitors, mice and keyboards – and more importantly, can hugely reduce a company’s electricity bill.
Even road warriors will often buy business notebooks as their personal machine, since these usually emphasise rugged durability over fancy design. This is certainly the impression conveyed by the new Esprimo Mobile U9210 from Fujitsu-Siemens, a 12.1in Centrino 2 notebook with embedded HSDPA/UMTS or, as most of us have come to know it, mobile broadband.
While it might not sport the lovely brushed metal chassis of the Dell Latitude E6400, the U9210 nevertheless means business; its construction is incredibly solid, with a dark-grey magnesium lid that does a great job of protecting the screen, a solid plastic keyboard surround, while the rest of it is textured black plastic. To be honest, the U9210’s chunky, plain look appeals to me rather more than many ‘designer’ notebooks such as the Samsung Q210, but then everyone’s taste does vary.
There’s a functional looking Fujitsu-Siemens logo on the lid that tallies well with the generally industrial look. This look and feel is continued when you open the machine up, with a combination of dark and lighter grey plastics complementing the black keyboard. It all feels incredibly robust, with not the slightest hint of creaking or unwanted flex anywhere on the machine.
That logo also appears below the screen in unobtrusive lettering, while above the screen there’s the inevitable 1.3MP webcam. Above the keyboard is a flush power button backlit in white. To the right is one of the more interesting features of the Esprimo range, a set of five assignable application buttons.
By default (from left to right), the first button with a key symbol locks your workstation, a great idea for when you need to step away from your desk suddenly. The second is referred to as the ‘mobility button’ and gives you convenient access to a whole range of settings including Fan Control, display brightness, volume, presentation modes and energy settings. Honestly, this is the kind of thing every notebook on the market should offer; a simple way of controlling everything that affects battery life in one simple place, so Fujistu-Siemens should be applauded for this.
Meanwhile, the Info button brings up Fujitsu-Siemens’ LaunchCenter, which lets you reassign these buttons and other functions, check the hardware configuration of your PC and perform systems diagnostics as well as data backups. In addition, you’ll find hints and tips, manuals and shortcuts to accessories that can be added to the machine like docking stations.
Next is the Eco button marked by a large ‘E’. Again this affects battery life, this time by physically switching off certain components or modules, though most of these can be switched off individually by hardware switches. Among these are Bluetooth, HSDPA, Wi-Fi and the webcam, while the screen is dimmed to a set level. This button can also deactivate whatever you’ve chosen to insert into the modular drive bay, which can house an ExpressCard module, a second hard disk or secondary battery instead of the standard DVD optical drive. Finally we have a Wireless button, though is made a bit redundant by the large wireless hardware switch on the notebook’s front.
To the left of the power button there is another interesting and unique feature; a slim LCD display indicating things like hard drive activity, signal strength and battery life. Though it’s not backlit, it’s still easy to see in the dark because even set to its dimmest the main screen provides enough light to see both it and the U9210’s spill-proof keyboard.
Speaking of the keyboard, it’s a pretty good effort. There’s just a bit of flex on the keyboard, but it’s not particularly dramatic and doesn’t impact on typing comfort one iota. Keys are comfortable, with a decent amount of travel for a notebook and a positive click and on the whole it’s not hard to generate a good typing speed.
The responsive touchpad is similarly a pleasure to use. Coloured light grey, it stands out from the rest of the notebook and its texture makes for just the right level of friction. Its two buttons below it are large, well-positioned and offer very nice feedback and a good audible click. They’re also separated by a solid section that can be filled by an optional finger scanner should you so wish.
One annoyance by no means unique to this machine is that if you’re the touchpad-tapping type, moving the cursor accidentally with your palms while typing can lead to some problems. However, you can deactivate it using a shortcut, though a dedicated button, as seen on the HP Pavilion dv5-1011ea, might be a nice addition, too.
If you don’t like touchpads, don’t fear; like most business-minded notebooks, the U9210 has a trackpoint unobtrusively nestled between the G, H and B keys. Unfortunately it doesn’t have its own buttons the trackpoint itself does have a tapping facility, it’s not ideal and works particularly poorly when double-clicking. Otherwise the trackpoint is good, providing an ample level of control when navigating documents and menus.
Connectivity is predominately good, but there are a few surprise omissions. For video output you get a VGA output, you’ll need a docking station for any digital output, but more significantly for some, there is no sign of any ExpressCard slot.
As mentioned earlier, this is in fact an optional extra and comes in the shape of a bay drive that replaces the DVD drive. A mitigating factor here is that HSDPA is probably the most common use for this slot and the Esprimo U9210 already has mobile broadband built in, but if you do have any ExpressCard devices then this is something you need to factor in.
On the positives side, you get three USB ports, one of which doubles as e-SATA. There is the usual 5-in-1 memory card reader handling SD, SDHC, MMC, MS Pro and xD, a Kensington lock slot and microphone and headphone sockets, in addition to Gigabit Ethernet and a docking-station port on the notebook’s bottom. Best of all for security-minded businesses is an integrated smart-card reader.
Further hardware features businesses will appreciate is a TPM 1.2 (Trusted Platform Module) and a ShockSensor to protect the sensitive data on the hard drive from falls and, well, shocks.
In terms of specifications, this notebook is no headline-grabber, but it’s more than powerful enough to cope with any non-entertainment use may demand. An Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 running at 2.4GHz with a 1,066MHz FSB is supported by 2GB of DDR3 RAM, keeping Windows Vista Business 32-bit zipping along nicely. 160GB of hard drive space might not sound like much, but again is plenty for storing spreadsheets, presentations and documents rather than film collections and games.
Likewise the integrated Intel GMA X4500HD graphics chip makes a lot of sense. It won’t run demanding games or graphics intensive applications, but is perfectly adequate for the U9210’s target audience and uses very little energy, maximising that all-important battery life. Consequently this little machine does rather well in this regard, with its six-cell 5,200mAh battery providing a superb five hours and 22 minutes in the low intensity Reader test. In the multi-tasking Productivity suite it managed an equally impressive four hours and 36 minutes, so this machine even surpasses the Dell Vostro 1310, one of the best battery performers we’ve seen this year.
Of course, this Esprimo is especially accomplished when it comes to wireless credentials. Joining the HSDPA mobile broadband we have Draft-N Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1. All combined there’s absolutely nothing this machine lacks in terms of mobility.
Equally worthy of praise is the U9210’s excellent 12.1in 1,280 x 800 screen. Text was incredibly sharp and, while there was some backlight bleed along the bottom of the screen, colour fidelity and gradation was excellent. Indeed, when viewed from the correct angle, it managed to show even the subtlest differentiations between tones and there were no signs of banding.
Its only real weakness are some relatively mediocre viewing angles. However, poor viewing angles are not necessarily as much of a disadvantage on a business notebook as with a consumer model, since they do aid privacy. Surprisingly, the speakers aren’t quite as throwaway as one might expect either, producing decent volume without much distortion. This makes them sufficient for presentations with basic audio in them, though their utter lack of bass means you’re still better off using headphones if listening to music.
Finally, a one year collect and return warranty can be upgraded to three years and the U9210 also comes under the unique Fujitsu-Siemens Esprimo Promise. This means that if the notebook develops a fault within the warranty period the company will not only repair or replace your unit, but actually refund the original price! This is only a promotion, the deadline being 31st March 2009, but this does add a sense of peace of mind in your purchase.
Despite a few niggles and the surprising omission of an integrated ExpressCard slot, Fujitsu-Siemens’ Esprimo Mobile U9210 is an excellent 3G-enabled business notebook. It offers rugged build quality, handy business-oriented features and, at this price, very good value for money, too.
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